How Darren Sharper’s 18-year jail sentence reveals NFL’s sexual abuse issue

Photo: via NFL/Minnesota Vikings (team photo)

Former NFL player Darren Sharper will spend the next 18 years of his life behind bars. Sharper, 41, was convicted on rape charges. According to the New Orleans Advocate, Sharper used drugs such as Ambient, Xanax, Valium and Ecstasy to sedate and rape women.

Sharper would usually meet the women at a club or bar and drug them in a hotel or at his condo. Sixteen women came forward and admitted to being sexually abused by Sharper. All of the incidents took place after Sharper retired from his 14-year career in the NFL.

Sharper’s 18-year sentence only served as a reminder of the overall issue of sexual violence in the NFL. During the 2015 NFL season, there were 44 active players who were accused of sexual and physical assault.

High-profile NFL players include Ben Roethlisberger (accused of rape twice); Mark Sanchez (accused of sexual assault); Ahmad Brooks (accused of misdemeanor sexual battery); and C.J. Spillman (accused of sexual assault twice). There are other players who have also been accused of domestic violence.

The sport of football teaches and rewards aggression on the field and some players have issues controlling that aggression when off the field. Moreover, a culture of sexual aggression has been accepted by some of the athletes.

In April 2016, NFL linebacker DeAndre Levy wrote an essay to encourage athletes to speak up against sexual violence.

Levy revealed how he first encountered the sexual aggression of fellow teammates while in college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As a freshman, he witnessed how some of his friends bragged about having sex with a drunk girl. He said the incident and similar situations inspired him to use his platform to speak against the NFL’s sexual abuse issue.

“The focus always seems to be on teaching young women how not to get raped and on what steps they can take to ‘stay safe,’” Levy wrote. “But why are we not also focused on educating young men about the definition of consent and what constitutes rape…We’re essentially dealing with the problem by telling women to be more careful. And that’s bullsh—.”

Levy’s open letter was a step in the right direction. But until the NFL firmly sends a message to change the culture that breeds sexual violence, it will take more than an essay to create a significant change.

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